Abundance and Borrelia burgdorferi-infection Prevalence of Nymphal Ixodes scapularis Ticks along Forest–Field Edges
More than 19,000 human cases of Lyme disease (LD) are reported each year in the United States. Lyme disease cases occur when humans are exposed to the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi through the bite of an infected ixodid tick. The probability of human exposure to infected ticks results from a combination of human behaviors and entomological risk. Human behaviors include use of tick habitats, use of protective clothing, and grooming for tick removal. Entomological risks include the density of ticks in a habitat and the proportion of these that are infected with B. burgdorferi. Recent studies have suggested that humans are at higher risk of exposure to B. burgdorferi near edges between forests and herbaceous communities, including lawns and old fields, but whether this increased risk is a function of human behaviors, entomological risk, or both, is unknown. We assessed entomological risk across forest–old field edges in Dutchess County, NY. Densities of ticks and of infected ticks were considerably higher within forests than at forest–field edges, and were lowest within fields. Thus, edges between forests and fields do not pose a higher entomological risk than do the forests themselves, although risk at the edge is higher than in herbaceous habitat. Landscapes with abundant edges between forested and herbaceous habitat, and roughly even proportions of both, might attract both heavy human use and pose moderately high entomological risk, and thus could be targeted for mitigation. We suggest that determining appropriate methods for reducing human exposure to LD requires differentiating entomological risk from human behaviors.
Key wordsblacklegged tick Borrelia burgdorferi Ixodes scapularis landscape epidemiology Lyme disease tick ecology
The authors thank the National Science Foundation (REU program and Ecological Biology program) and the National Institutes of Health (NIAID) for funding this research. Ray Winchcombe and Kelly Oggenfuss provided crucial logistical support. This is a contribution to the program of the Institute of Ecosystem Studies.
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